Italy police smash criminal network of human traffickers

January 30, 2017 10:30 pm

This handout picture released by the Italian police (Polizia di Stato) on January 30, 2017, shows refugees hidden in a vehicle by human traffickers. (Via AFP)

Italian authorities say they have dismantled an international criminal network trafficking hundreds of illegal refugees, mostly from African and Middle Eastern nations, across .
The Italian police made the announcement in a statement on Monday, saying “the criminal organization comprised Egyptians, North Africans, Sudanese, Albanians, many of them with their papers in order, while a few were Romanian and Italian citizens.”
According to the statement, the refugees – mostly from Syria, Egypt, Eritrea and Sudan – first made their way to the northern Italian city of Milan, where the network’s main base was located. Then, they were transferred to Ventimiglia, a city in Imperia Province near the French border. There, “they were regrouped and hidden pending transport” into France.
Police also said that the gang had been smashed after a two-year investigation of at least 62 smuggling cases that had paved the way for “hundreds of people” to enter the territories of various European countries.
The Italian authorities said that arrest warrants had been issued for 34 people, 18 of whom based in . They added that most of the Italian-based traffickers lived in the country legally.
Meanwhile, Milan prosecutor Ilda Boccassini said that in a single bust, police had found 40 illegal refugees packed in the back of a van. “They were having difficulty breathing when the police got them out,” she further said, adding that the criminals had treated them like “cannon fodder.”
Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti, for his part, praised the anti-trafficking operation and called the smugglers “unscrupulous criminals who abuse people in great difficulty.”
Italy, along with neighboring Greece, has been at the forefront of attempts to curb the flow of refugees escaping war and poverty in the past few years.
The International Organization for Migration recorded a high number of refugee arrivals in Italy from North Africa in 2016. It said 173,000 reached the Italian shores in 2016, nearly 14,000 more than the figure for 2015 and breaking a 170,000 record registered in 2014.
A number of European countries have adopted harsh measures, including toughening border controls, shutting refugees out, and even erecting razor-wire fences. But the problem remains far from resolved.
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